Heian Kento 1200: Ordinances and the “conservation, revitalization, creation”

Earlier in the decade,  “Heian Kento 1200” directly caused negative effects on making tradition-preserve ordinances.

Years before the event, the limitation of construction height had been largely alleviated. Kyoto City passed an ordinance introducing the “comprehensive design system”, which offers height bonus, and set the new height limit for such buildings at 60m, exceeding the usual limitation. This ordinance was meant to pave way for constructions for the 1200th anniversary in 1994.[1] It was soon faced with strong protest, which more or less influenced the policy-making procedure.

In the 1990s, what Kyoto officials repeated the most was their catchphrase “Preservation for the north, revitalization for the centre, creativity for the south”.[1] This is the theme running through the whole decade, guiding city landscape development for the future. Firstly, “Council for Kyoto City Development on Measures for Land Use and Landscape” of Kyoto City was set up in 1991, after the constructions of “Heian-Kento 1200 project” caused a lot of controversial problems focusing especially on their heights. [3]According to their first report submitted in 1991, the theme “conservation, revitalization and creation” divide Kyoto into three regions :

  • “Natural and Historical Landscape Conservation Region” in the north and three mountainous areas;
  • “Harmonized Downtown Revitalization Regions” in the central area;
  • “New Urban Function Concentration Region” on the south.[2]

The second report in 1992 was focusing more on specific measures and visual effects of Kyoto landscape, including reinforcing regulation on large buildings and outdoor advertisements. Besides, the regulations also aiming at protecting another “important cultural property” of Kyoto- the scenic mountain view from the downtown area.[2]

“Ordinance for the Conservation of Natural Landscape” was enacted in 1995, aiming at “maintaining the characteristics of the old urban area which existed before the war”[2]. Before it was established, Kyoto had already been characterized by different aesthetic districts, such as Conservation and Adjustment Districts, Community Landscape Development Districts, each of them dealing with different challenges and objectives.[3]

The officials’ focus was not on making rule itself, but rather on expanding the dialogue between different social groups: officials, local residents, organizations… The founding of Kyoto Workshop, a semi-governmental center for town-scape and urban revitalization, shows a good example of civic cooperation.[1] Later, Districts and regions were further divided into smaller categories, intended to encourage community development, and find out characteristics of every different category. This system vitalized local communities and districts as units of landscape development, in addition, encouraging “local activities including Urban Landscape Agreement and a subsidy to the groups of people working on community development”. Its effect was plainly embodied in the protection of Kyo-machiya houses on which would be expanded in other posts.[2]

These ordinances did alleviate the situation, however, its moderate effect still failed to stop the damage of old Kyoto landscape, which would be elaborated in other posts. It finally became a catalyst for the strict landscape policy and height restriction pushed through in the first decade of the 21st century, and made what Kyoto is today.


[1] Brumann, Christoph. Tradition, democracy and the townscape of Kyoto: claiming a right to the past. London: Routledge, 2013. 59-67.

[2] Kyoto City Official.  The Landscape of Kyoto. Accessed December 13, 2017. Retrieved from:http://www.city.kyoto.lg.jp/tokei/cmsfiles/contents/0000057/57538/2shou.pdf.

[3]Fiévé, Nicolas, and Paul Waley. Japanese capitals in historical perspective: place, power and memory in Kyoto, Edo and Tokyo. London: Routledge, 2013.


3 Comments on “Heian Kento 1200: Ordinances and the “conservation, revitalization, creation”

  1. It is thoughtful for Kyoto to have divided itself into three regions for city landscape development throughout the whole decade. Very often countries separate their development progress either by phases or by separation of urban and rural areas. By taking “Conservation for north, revitalization for centre, creation for south” as principle, it manifests the mutual exclusion of the three elements to be focused in a particular region. To make such a planning decision, interests of different stakeholders have to be considered and sacrificed at some points. Building codes and planning policies are regulations and set of standards that are constantly changing and followed by the developers to minimize the conflicts arise from architecture to the natural environment, livelihood of people and social impact. To me, balancing among these has always been the most struggling and challenging part to an architect or urban planner.

  2. It is always controversial and hard to neogotiate between preserving the old and introducing the new, however, Kyoto tended to stand firm for the boundaries guiding the distribution of conservation, revitalization and creation, creating a gradual change from the north to south.

    As Lo Cheuk Ling said, it is hard to implement a particular type of strategy in a specific area due to the diversity of urban fabric and the ever changing building codes and regulations. In my point of view, although “Conservation for north, revitalization for centre, creation for south”was strict, it prioritized a more historical and significant northern district to be preserved, revealing its importance and the position of Kyoto in urban planning. More chaos or destruction may happen on the valuable historical landscape and buildings if the boundaries become blurry.

    I also appreciate how Kyoto balanced historical preservation and commercial globalization nowadays. Commercial business seems difficult to fit into an old city while it is become more and more crucial to citizens or tourists nowadays. As a result, Kyoto requested the business to change the color of their signage or buildings in order to submerge into the historical color of Kyoto. As eclectic way, this also created some featured design such as a convenience shop with a traditional Japanese facade.

  3. When it comes to city planning, sensitivity to the culture, economy, and natural landscape is always hard to juggle between. I believe this example of Kyoto shows the sensitivity of the government and the public to the interests of the city through protests, regulations, and ordinances. When it comes to preserving the nature or the culture, so many cities are faced with a greater attraction to economy. When comparing a city that regulates its billboard advertisements, building heights, and program zoning, places like Hong Kong seem extremely imbalanced and insensitive to areas other than its capital interests. I think it is important for Kyoto to continue the rigor of planning sensitively to maintain a balance between the city to a level where it can grow but not lose its identity.

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